I view my writing as advocacy, so I often try to write about poor Black women in my journalism. Editors tell me they like Black stories told from the first-person perspective, meaning they don’t like Black people writing about Black life unless it is waxing poetically from a perspective that focuses on the individual —the individual telling the story. This of course, is going to limit the Black perspectives presented. Lovecraft Country HBO
This is how my Time Magazine story about the illegal forum deal that gave away 18 million dollars to Madison Square Gardens got rewritten as a Black girl from the ghetto fighting for her town. Lovecraft Country HBO
When I write fiction agents often ask, “Do you have a memoir?”
The same idea.
I am an informal student of Toni Morrison, and she said, “Don’t write what you know,” and continued with, “I may be wrong about this, but it seems as though so much fiction, particularly that by younger people, is very much about themselves.”
You can tell truths in fiction that you cannot tell in memoirs or first-person essays and unless you’re 100, how many great ones could you possibly have?
I don’t do first-persons, poems, or fiction about me, but I pretend to because I know as a Black woman (of modest academic credentials), this is the only way I am allowed to tell stories.
I watch very little television, but I do watch shows based on books. Gaiman’s Good Omens, American Gods, Lucifer, I love to watch books literally come alive. I have read works by HP Lovecraft. Lovecraft Country is based on the towns in his books, so I, of course, wanted to watch Lovecraft Country.
I decided to get the book Lovecraft Country on which the series was based, so Chas (my husband) and I could watch the series together with more backstory.
We decided it would be fun to listen to the audiobook.
It was fun and scary. Lovecraft Country HBO
The person reading the audiobook was a Black man or what was supposed to be a Black man, which made sense as many of the book’s characters are Black. As I listened to the story, I thought about publishing in the US and thought this was hopeful. The story reminded me of something I would write. I love Toni Morrison, but I can’t write like her. I’m just not that good, but this book. I could write this.
In the middle of the book around the chapter “Jekyll in Hyde Park,” they discussed freedom, and a Black character became white. It was a woman, she got smaller, more fragile, and more privileged, all the things that particular kinds of white women aspire to, but I guess Black women aspire to this too!
At that point, I decided this book, and this series is way “too Black,” to not have the Black author of this book front and center. I know Neil Gaiman is all over the series based on his books. Where is Matt? Where did he get his MFA (because if you want to write if you’re Black you have to have an MFA or PhD, we can not just let a mere working-class Black person have a crack at it, someone might tell the truth about this country.)
So I typed in Matt Ruff into “the Google.” He is white. That is interesting. Nothing wrong with him being white. It is a good story, but I kind of feel like the way this whole Lovecraft Country is being presented is a little bit of fiction, though, as Toni says, you can tell a lot of truth in fiction.
Teka Lo, Public Intellectuals